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Radiation Therapy Side Effects   

Although less toxic, radiotherapy also causes side effects. These side effects may last for weeks, months, years or even a lifetime in some patients. In general, the toxicity of radiation can be acute or delayed.  

Usually, side effects of the acute toxicity appear a few weeks to six months after treatment, and tend to disappear a few months or years after the onset. These side effects develop especially in the rapid turnover tissues: skin, mucous membranes, bone marrow, etc.  

Although rare, side effects of radiation therapy may occur years after therapy. They are often irreversible and primarily affect the supporting tissues, with development of fibrosis. For example, radiation therapy in the oral cavity can lead to permanent dry mouth.  

Whatever the treatment area, radiation therapy tends to cause fatigue and nausea, and skin problems. Other side effects vary depending on the organ treated. Radiotherapy to the abdomen can cause vomiting and loss of appetite; radiotherapy brain may be responsible for hair loss and pituitary gland disorders

The most common radiotherapy side effects, diving by organ, include: 

  • radiation to the eyes can cause:  
    • deterioration of vision    
    • induced cataract   
    • necrosis of the eye (premature death of cells in the eyes);   
  • radiation to the head and neck (ear, nose, sinus, throat, neck, brain, and others) can lead to:   
    • oral mucositis (inflammation and ulceration in the mouth)    
    • hair loss    
    • dry mouth (xerostomia)   
    • taste loss  
    • dermatitis   
    • bone problems  
    • hypothyroidism  
    • dental problems ;   
  • irradiation to the esophagus can cause:   
    • inflammation of the esophagus (acute esophagitis);  
  • Radiation therapy to the lungs tend to cause:   
    • cough   
    • asthenia  
    • dyspnĂ©e  
    • fever  
    • respiratory failure ;  
  • irradiation to the heart can lead to the development of:   
    • pericarditis   
    • heart mumur   
    • coronary problems;  
  • Intestin radiotherapy can cause :   
    • diarrhea   
    • abdominal pain  
    • constipation ;  
  • radiation to the bladder, kidneys and reproductive organs can cause:   
    • lack of sexual desire   
    • impotence (men)  
    • kidney failure ;  
  • radiotherapy to the skin can cause:   
    • congestive redness of the skin (erythema)  
    • itchiness   
    • dryness   
    • loss of superficial layers of the epidermis (peeling skin)  
    • painful skin ulcer  
    • pigmentation disorders   
    • Detachment of the epidermis which creates a pocket of serous fluid (blisters).